You might remember Keith Mushonga from his vivid story about traveling to the U.S. for the first time. Well, he wanted to share a story of another travel adventure – his spring break trip to Washington, D.C. Keith says the trip was organized for international students by his school’s international center, and excitement and anticipation were running high when the students gathered to depart on their vacation. For Keith the excitement was even greater – he was sure this was his opportunity to meet the president. Here’s his story:
As we waited outside the international center for our taxis to arrive, up came Alex, dragging a large casket. “Good morning, guys?” he said, guiltily. He always had the air of a spy about him, and the dead body-sized case didn’t help. I rushed to open the large casket, grabbing the bag with my claws. I clipped it open and saw bags of Lays, Doritos and Oreos. “That’s my food for the next five days!” he said, smiling. “Oh! So where did you put the dead body…?” I joked.
I had brought only a small satchel, in which I’d stuffed three pairs of clothes and my tiny laptop. I planned on wearing the same socks until they smelled as bad as my excitement!
This would my first time leaving Rock Hill since I got to Winthrop in August. I was especially looking forward to the rendezvous I planned to have with President Obama. I had tons of stories to tell him about Africa. And I had stayed up all night, yawning and drooling on my desk, writing a sonnet for the occasion called “Yes We Can!”
We ended up in two taxis, crammed up in our seats, staring out as the sleepy town of Rock Hill slipped away in the rearview. Walgreens, Earth Fare, Bi-Low, B.P.
We took the taxis to Charlotte, where we boarded an Amtrak train to D.C. In my country I’d never travelled by train, in fact our trains were virtually dead. Most people travelled in kombis, or mini-buses; overstuffed with people, livestock, bicycles, and gossip. Public transport was a drag; full of endless stops by pot-bellied police officers soliciting for bribes; full of complaints about hardships.
I tried sitting next to Alex, so we could have some political discussions, but he soon fled like a fugitive saying, “You talk too much! You are annoying!” before slipping down the aisle, dragging his dead body. He sat next to a stranger who stared daggers at him on seeing the oversized suitcase.
A crazy lady sat next me. “When I get there, tell them I don’t want any trouble!” she shouted over her phone. “I just been in prison!! And I don’t want to go back coz o’ somethin’ stupid! Are we clear!?” She hung-up. “So how’re y’a doing, darling?” she said to me, staring at me with sharp eyes.
After several hours, we finally got to Washington. We looped our way through underground trains before we were out in the open. “Wow!” I said, standing in front of everyone else. “D.C.’s quiet, and quaint!” It wasn’t quite the psychedelic D.C. I’d had in mind; an adrenaline-charged, action-packed metropolis with sirens, guns and excitement; it was something more elaborate. It was quiet. Peaceful. Nice!
D.C. is more of an administrative capital. Our own 7-story campus apartments looked elaborately taller than most of the buildings that I saw. But that is what made the city so spectacular! I felt like I was in a mini-city, a splendid Legoland stretching for eons. And was itching to explore!
After putting down our luggage at Hotel Harrington we found ourselves trotting across D.C., towards the White House, and I started to think about my rendezvous with President Obama, in the Oval Office. I would tell him how he is a symbol of hope, not only for Americans, but for people around the world; under the sea of flashlights, and news reporters. Then I’d hand him my poem, “Yes We Can!”
One of the girls we were traveling with was putting her enthusiasm for food to use with each new monument we passed. She licked the horses and fake people like ice-cream, making strange poses for the pictures she planned to post on Facebook.
“This one is going to be called Vanilla! That one Noodles… that one… I’ll tag all of you!..”
Alex, on the other hand hated the slow pace everyone else had adopted. He marched on like a soldier, staring ahead with his stoic eyes and probably thinking, “Those imbeciles! They get carried away by statues and rocks!”
We walked past herds of students who were also on spring break. They’d probably already bathed in the honor of seeing President Obama, I thought. Now it was our turn! It was our turn to see the maverick, with a million-dollar smile, and an infinite vision.
I held onto my poem. I felt it singing to me as I approached the White House.
“Excuse me.” said the guard. “You can’t go any further. The road is closed.”
I exclaimed in disbelief. “Does that mean…??? We can’t see the President?”
“I’m afraid so.”
I held onto the poem, and felt the weight of millions of prayers melting.
But, as I looked down at the Washington Monument, a tall obelisk staring into the heavens like a torch, I felt my hopes burning again. I was going to be in D.C. for the next five days, exploring the monuments. I was going to eventually give President Obama this sonnet, and let the prayers of millions of Africans sing along like a song. “Yes We Can!” echoed the sonnet in my hand.
It might not surprise you to find out that Keith did not get to meet President Obama on his trip. I asked him whether he really expected to be able to march into the White House and greet the president:
“I guess meeting Obama was somewhat between my overactive imagination… and an actual wish and hope. I feel silly in retrospect.”
Did it ruin your trip?
“I must admit not meeting the president did sort of ruin the trip in some way, because I was somewhat childishly hopeful. But I still found joy in the trip: seeing the monuments, eating in strange restaurants and trying sushi for the first time.”
Yes We Can, by Keith Mushonga
At the Summit of the White House you fly
Like an Eagle with wings open so wide
Your eyes see so far and beyond our sky
Guarding us like little chicks inside.
Before, It was a dream floating astream
When the world was thirsty for some hope
So our hope washed the dream, slowly downstream
And gave us more reason to sail the globe.
“Yes we can!” marched many in the streets
Packed up in podiums, with sorrows at hand,
Lost jobs lost health, all our rights in pitiful pits!
But then we marched twice to that same Summit
And found hope blooming like a blade of Wheat
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